Selling a series is a lovely concept, isn’t it? I know I like when it happens.
I’ve sold a few of them so far. Most haven’t made it beyond two books, but for a shining moment there, they were all a series.
Oh, I could blame the markets—and I wouldn’t be wrong—and I could blame the fickle nature of publishing and I likely wouldn’t be mistaken, either, but ultimately, it comes down to this: Selling a series is a good deal harder than selling a single book. Let’s say you want to sell a trilogy. Brilliant! Fabulous! Get right on that.
First, you have to come up with a concept that will hold true for at least a trilogy worth of stories. Going with an average of a mere 80,000 words per book (a rather light average, really) you now have to have a solid enough concept to let you write 240,000 words. And that doesn’t mean in one book, but over the span of three.
Why is that more difficult? Well, really, because you have to convince the audience with the first book that there’s a viable reason for coming back a second time. And then, you have to make them come back a third time. And if you fail to keep the audience interested for the first two books, your third may never see the light of day.
Tell you a story. Not all that long ago I decided to do a three book proposal for a YA series. I called it THE FAILURES. It was about genetic spies that were created and then written off as a loss. It was meant to be three books, possibly with a spin off or two. Hey, if you’re gonna dream, dream big. I sold the first two books to a publisher. They didn’t like the title, however, so it became SUBJECT SEVEN, which is the actual name of one of the characters. He goes by several different names, actually but he thinks of himself as Subject Seven. The contract was for two books. I was paid very nicely for them. Sadly, I never got to a third book in the series. Again, part of that is changing markets. Partially the publisher decided to go in a different direction. Partially it might well have been sales on the second book. There are a lot of variables and I’m not privy to all of the information.
I did a novel once called SERENITY FALLS. It’s a big book. Even after editing it down substantially it came in at 300,000 words. It was quite literally a year of my life in the first draft alone. And when it came out it was done as a limited edition by a small press. And when it was resold to a mass market publishing house I was asked to break it down into three books. I had to add an additional 40,000 words, ironically almost the exact word count that I chopped away initially, but I made it happen. There were a few structural changes but that was as rough as it got. All three books sold rather well and received decent acclaim.
My book SEVEN FORGES is contracted as part of a two book deal. I would have preferred three books, but I’m new to the fantasy field and I can understand the reluctance on the part of the publisher. I will do all I can to wrap the story up in two parts instead of three. That’s cool.
I just sold a second book in the Wellman, Georgia series, called CONGREGATIONS OF THE DEAD. When I wrote it with my friend and co-author Charles R. Rutledge, we were just writing a second book with the same characters. There was no intention of doing a series. It just sort of happened. We are at work on a third book with the same characters. We are also planning out a spin off with the kids we employed in a short story that we offered up for free as a promotional piece for the first book, BLIND SHADOWS. So right there I have two novels done, a short story finished and two more novels planned for the same universe as it were. Each is meant as a stand alone story. They are connected by characters, by events and by a certain chronology. They are meant to be standalone novels.
I have written a series of books that was put into the Jonathan Crowley Library. Jonathan Crowley is a recurring character of mine who has nothing at all to do with the writer by the same name. They just have the same name. In point of fact, I suspect the writer is a much nicer man than the character I created. So far he has shown up in UNDER THE OVERTREE, THE SERENITY FALLS TRILOGY (WRIT IN BLOOD, THE PACK and DARK CARNIVAL) as well as VENDETTA, CHERRY HILL, several short stories and the forthcoming BOOMTOWN. I also have several planned novellas with the same character. Why? Because I like the character and because publishers seem to like the character and so do my readers.
What do all of these things have in common? They are all series. They all came about in very different ways.
If you can get a series, awesome. Plan to your heart’s content. I have several series planned out. I intend to send the proposals to my agent in the very near future. I will not expect them to work out as series, but I have my hopes and my agendas.
Here’s the one thing I would recommend when it comes to a series: make each story as solid and as complete as it can be by itself. If I should happen upon one of your books in a series, I should be able to read it from beginning to end and enjoy it without having to find the rest of the books in the series. If you fail in this, you have failed me as a writer. I believe that from the bottom of my cynical heart. I should also, in a perfect world, love the tale enough to go out and buy and read the rest of them, but that should not be a necessity for me to enjoy the book I spent my hard earned money on.